Expectations Versus Reality: Why Marriage Is Hard

I replied to this post this morning, but didn’t get nearly enough characters. That never happens, right? So here’s my expanded response. And beyond that, how I feel about marriage, and that it often comes down to an expected image versus the reality of what it is.

I think the issue with marriage is multi-dimensional.

First, women feel like they’re a failure if they don’t get married. Or like marriage is a goal. It’s not a goal. But many of my friends have been searching for someone, anyone to marry them. For some, they wanted to be married as soon as their early 20s (or even in high school, I guess). For others, they figured they’d be married by their late 20s, so as the mid to late-twenties creep in, they start to panic. Then, my favorite group of girls are those in their 30s. Clocks are ticking. Emotions are running high. “Why doesn’t anyone want me?!” The whole thing is absurd.

Ladies, you are not a failure if you don’t get married. It just means you haven’t found the right one, yet. You don’t settle for anyone who comes along. Or you’re running off the good guys with the crazy you’re carrying around, only thinking of marriage and children. Relax a little. I promise life’s not that much of an uptick when you’re married. Don’t you have any friends to witness? You do? Why do you think it’s going to be so much better for you?

Beyond that, “rewarding” marriage with this huge wedding that’s “the best day of your life” only exacerbates this issue. Why doesn’t a girl get “her day” unless she gets married? I think this is one of the stupidest popular things in the world. Don’t reward something you don’t want abused. Reward exercisers with an open to post all the time on Facebook? They’ll abuse it. Reward heroin addicts with “the best high you’ll ever feel?” They’ll abuse it. Many girls have dreamed about their wedding day since they were children (I can’t relate, honestly). But when you dream about something that hard and that long, you want to realize it. Stop making it about the wedding. And for Christ’s sake, parents, tell your daughters you’ll throw them a party for just them if they want it (this is assuming you’d finance a wedding anyway). Go all out, wedding style. Give them the same budget, etc. But tell them, “You get one wedding. Whether you get married twice, get married after your single party, etc. this is all we’re paying for.” Takes the pressure off. And maybe will make the wait worth it. Just like finding the right guy.

Second, I think there’s a huge image versus reality issue with marriage (and children). Mind you, this is also exists with things like careers, buying a house, etc. Throughout our childhood we’re overwhelmed with “true love” and “soul mates.” Almost as if it’s easy if you find “the one.” Is any relationship easier/better/more enjoyable if you find the right one? Yes. Obviously. But there’s no magic person that if you find him, marriage is easy. Some things make it easier like finding a good match who agrees on high-level things like beliefs (both what’s right and wrong and religion), how you want to live, money, traveling, etc. Do you have to match up perfectly? No. But if you agree on right and wrong, and approach life the same way, it’s a heck of a lot easier. I’ve met guys who get me, but they like do smoke pot on the side. I don’t have a social problem with pot, but since it’s illegal, it’s not something I’d want in my house (until it’s legalized). Does that make me a prude? Sure, but it’s something I’m not comfortable with. I don’t want to have a record or not be able to keep my job because of some casual habit. Again, I’m NOT judging the use. I simply don’t want it in my house. Therefore, it’s not really a compromise I want to make. The same thing can be said for religion, for those who are very religious. Do you need to have the same core beliefs? Probably if you’re going to raise a family together. It’s not impossible to raise a child Jewish and Catholic, but if you’re both very religious, it will be hard. I mean, look at Andrea and Jesse on 90210. That’s all they fought about until they both cheated. OK, they were also young. And annoying. Anyway, my point is, you need to have a baseline. Now that I’m older and have a financial process that works for me, I know I couldn’t marry someone who believes in credit card debt or financing almost anything except a house and maybe a car. I have absolutely no moral objection to debt, but in general, it stresses me out. I need someone who looks at money, saving, spending and retirement similarly to me. Or we’ll fight. Probably a lot.

But when you’re 18 years old, or even 22 or 26, you look for romance over compatibility, and yes there’s a difference. I had a boyfriend who did everything right on paper. He was so romantic. Grand gestures, small things, sweet things. The best thing that ever happened to me was him dumping me when he realized we weren’t a match. He will be the same “perfect on paper” guy for every girl he dates. And the girl he ends up with will be lucky for that. But he’s smart to have realized he could find someone better than me. And the good thing for me is I also realize how good a boyfriend CAN be. And that it’s not too much to expect of a 30 year old what I got from an 18 year old. So you learn and grow. And I honestly believe someone who really loves and is right for you won’t ever walk away. If he does, he doesn’t love you THAT much.

Beyond that, someone saying, “Marriage is work” doesn’t resonate with a 20 year old, who generally hasn’t “worked” at anything (I know I hadn’t). You don’t realize how hard it is until you live or witness it. I’ve learned a lot from simply getting older and seeing friends who had fun dating grow apart when they share responsibilities. It IS hard. It’s hard to raise kids inside or out of marriage. It’s hard to maintain a house or keep track of money or have a job. So sharing these things with someone else can sometimes magnify issues. When you’re alone, it’s all on you. When you share stuff, sometimes a messy person makes it harder. Or a less present parent. Or someone spending money you don’t want spent. But at the same time, you also have someone to work through issues with, hold the ladder as you climb onto the roof, or help clean up puke at 2AM. So it’s give and take. And having the right match in a person who truly loves and is committed to you is what makes marriage better than being single. But simply being married doesn’t guarantee that. It has to be the right person. And even then, there will be days it’s harder than others.  But try telling that to 20-year old me.

Finally, I don’t think saying, “You don’t understand how REAL commitment or covenant” works. That’s like the argument we keep having about abstinence. We’ve all found it’s hard to make that work. I mean, sure if you meet the right person when you’re young and both are on the same page, and both are mature enough to get married, it can work. Or if you have willpower of steel and can deny yourself basic human pleasures. Is it possible? Yes, everything’s possible. People give up gluten and sugar every day. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. And honestly, when you love someone, it’s hard to say no. Especially when you’re a teenager or in your early twenties when you have so much going on hormonally. Much like I think we should be teaching kids to at least respect themselves, and be safe, and to wait until they’re actually ready (not pressured) and really love someone (don’t just want to get him to stay), I think marriage and relationships should be approached the same way. Can you white knuckle out abstinence? Yes. Can you white knuckle out a marriage? Absolutely. But who wants to? I think waiting for someone you trust and love is the more important thing. I have friends who have gotten married just so they can have sex, which is such a bad decision. And I don’t mean so they could have sex with anyone, but because they wanted to do “the right thing,” but waiting IS hard when you love someone.

And sometimes marriage actually makes people think, “Welp, married now.” like it’s a reason to give up or worse, as if you possess something. But I honestly think this is in the minority. People joke about this, but those first years, they’re always sneaking off to be alone because they want to be because it’s new an exciting. The “work” part is when the “new” becomes the “norm” and it seems silly to have a “date night,” but still totally necessary. As children come into the world, they have to be a high priority, but your marriage still needs to be first. Or at least your spouse shouldn’t feel second to the children, and chores, and work and whatever else.

I’m not expert, I’ve never been married. But I’ve witnessed a lot of marriages run the course. I’ve witnessed people being letdown with reality versus their expectations. I’ve seen people consumed with having children when they can’t, then being overwhelmed or let down when they do. I’ve heard people fight about things they knew existed when they were dating, but either ignored or it didn’t bother them because it wasn’t “forever.” Perspective changes as your reality changes. Expectations change as you live more life with a person. And when your reality doesn’t merge with the image you had of your future, it can be a big letdown. Those who move past this are the ones who realize not realizing your fantasy mate, life and future doesn’t mean you can’t still be happy.

Or that’s when you finally realize you made a mistake.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. […] And this is a thing. This is a phenomenon. I see women who are more particular about their engagement ring, or their dress, or the flowers at their wedding, or their cake, or their wedding colors, or the fucking napkins at their wedding than they are the guy they’re marrying. Marriage is hard enough without going into it as an underdog!  […]

    Reply

  2. Posted by sonia on July 3, 2013 at 6:20 am

    I loved this!!
    For someone who is just about to take this big leap of faith, I need a good dose of perspective!!

    Reply

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